During his introduction of Jack Lew as the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, President Obama made the comment (and I am paraphrasing) that members of both parties are in agreement that we do not want to endure another financial crisis the same as the one that we just went through. Naturally, that jumped out at me – with his choice of words (or those of his speechwriter, I should say), we were in essence being told that the financial crisis was over.
But is it? Unemployment is still at 9.5%. Millions of Americans are still out of work, with a significant number of that group losing their unemployment benefits due to the 99-week maximum having been reached. A report I read today said that for every one job opening in this country there are five potential applicants. And the Senate, locked in its ongoing struggle over extending benefits while trying to find a way to pay for them without increasing our national debt, has not taken any action.
Does that seem like the end of the financial crisis? The banks and lending institutions may be in better shape, and the stock market may be on the rebound, but that means nothing to the 50-year-old husband and father who has been out of work for two years and cannot find a job, or the single parent whose company downsized and left them uncertain about how they will support their children.
A friend of mine – someone I respect a great deal – questioned whether 99 weeks isn’t long enough. If it isn’t, he wondered, how many years are enough?
Immediately, my mind turned to the traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho – the subject of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. And I began to wonder: are we a nation of priests, a nation of Levites, or a nation of Samaritans?
I understand very well how much money the government spends each year in supporting unemployed men and women throughout the United States – those who are looking for work, those who have given up, and those who never intended to look to begin with. I understand the need for fiscal restraint and the importance of getting our national books back in balance.
More than that, though, I understand what in mind is a moral obligation to be the friend of those who need help – the Samaritan to the man who was beaten and robbed. If Congress does not extend the benefits, how will we react in the face of situation which will become even worse? Community organizations, relief agencies, and churches can only do so much.
Assuming benefits are not extended, millions more families may become homeless. The roll of those seeking help with increase dramatically. The suffering experienced by so many in this country – the stress, the depression, the uncertainty, the hopelessness – will be compounded more than we can imagine.
What will we do?
Will we be a nation of priests, who come upon the scene and move to the other side of the road to avoid what we find? Will we be a nation of Levites who react in the exact same manner?
Or will we be a nation of Samaritans who stop, offer aid, bandage their wounds, take them to safety, and see things through to the end?